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Friday 26 January 2024

Nuclear Powered Soul

Before we start, a quick service announcement. The announcement is that there isn't going to be much service round here for the next month or so.

On Sunday I am off to Athens for a few days' working, although I have cleared a space in my busy schedule to visit my favourite record shop there (and one of my favourites anywhere). Then I come back for a week before jetting off to South Africa for a fortnight to visit all the local branches of the Goggins clan. What passes for normal service will resume towards the end of February.

Now on with the show. Unlike some of those silvery-tongued devils who manage to produce interesting posts every day seemingly with ease, for me it is normally a case of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. In the case of today's post replace 'inspiration' with 'lack of coordination'.

Yesterday afternoon I accidentally knocked over a stack of CDs while clumsily attempting a simple household chore. When I bent over to pick them up the one nearest my feet was "Something Extra Special: The Complete Volt Recordings 1968-1971" by Jimmy Hughes. I took it as a sign.

Mr Hughes is one of the innumerable number of fine soul singers to emerge in the 1960s who never quite received their due. Hailing from Leighton, Alabama like his cousin Percy Sledge, he had a Top 20 hit in 1964 with "Steal Away". But just seven years later he packed in music entirely, tired of the touring and the lack of promotion, and got gainful employment making parts for nuclear power plants. As you do.

"I'm So Glad" - Jimmy Hughes

"I'm Not Ashamed To Beg Or Plead" - Jimmy Hughes

Shortly before posting this I heard the sad news that Melanie Safka left us a couple of days ago. She was dismissed as a bit of a novelty act by a lot of folks after "Brand New Key" but she wrote some really good songs. Very much of their era but really good songs nonetheless. 

Two personal favourites are "Lay Down" which has powerhouse backing from the Edwin Hawkins Singers and "Peace Will Come" (here performed with a perhaps unlikely duet partner). RIP Melanie.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Cover To Cover With Warren Zevon

I am pausing for breath between two gigs this morning.

Last night we went to The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington - formerly The Drop of Andrew Weatherall fame - for Sarabeth Tucek. It feels like I spent last chunks of last year banging on about her and her album "Joan Of All" (credited to SBT) so I won't dwell on the gig here. Suffice to say she was very good.

Tonight some of us are reconvening at the What's Cookin' club night in leafy Leytonstone to watch assorted stalwarts of the local Americana scene pay tribute to the late great Warren Zevon on what would have been his birthday. I'm not quite sure what to expect but one thing we can be sure of is that the songs will be excellent.

To get myself in the mood, here are some real Americans covering and being covered by Warren. If tonight's performers can come even vaguely close to matching Flaco and Dwight it will be a good evening.

"A Certain Girl" - Ernie K-Doe

"A Certain Girl"  - Warren Zevon

"Carmelita" - Warren Zevon

"Carmelita" - Flaco Jimenez (with Dwight Yoakum)

It's the same idea for the videos. Stick around for Mike Cummings, you are in for a treat. 

Monday 22 January 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 25 - Guinea-Bissau

This is the third and final leg of the Guinea mini-tour that forms just a small part of our overall odyssey. We sweltered away in the equatorial one back in October and called in at the 'no frills' the other week. Now we're bringing you some bangers from Bissau.

Possibly the only country in the world with a hyphen in its official name, Guinea-Bissau is mostly mangroves. It is bordered by Guinea and Senegal but probably most closely affiliated with Cabo Verde, 650 miles west over the waves. Both countries are former Portuguese colonies whose independence in the 1970s followed many years of joint struggle led by the revolutionary hero Amilcar Cabral.

Those of you who have been following the series so far will be expecting rumbling rhythms, sparkling guitars and the odd indigenous instrument or two. All that is present and correct, but first up we have a song that uses no instrumentation and is both ancient and new at the same time.

Just after Christmas a group called Associação Djorsom Garandi di Tina di Bolama released ten tracks on Bandcamp. They provided absolutely no information at all about themselves, but after a bit of digging around I discovered that Tina is a cultural tradition on the island of Bolama, one of the Bijagos islands off the coast of mainland Guinea-Bissau. 

A Portuguese NGO, Assistência Médica Internacional (AMI), is providing support to help preserve Tina, including setting up a recording facility. As one of the Associação's songs is called "Obrigado AMI" my guess is that they are one of the beneficiaries. Judging by this and their other tracks it is an excellent cause.

Another organisation doing its best to preserve the country's musical heritage is Radio Cobiana, and I heartily recommend their compilation featuring artists from the era before and after independence which has the self-explanatory title "Music Of Guinea-Bissau". From that album I have selected a track by Super Mama Djombo, widely considered to be the leading band from that period. If you like it, you might also want to check out their 1980 album "Na Camban​ç​a".

Also featured on the Cobiana compilation is the poet, musician and guerilla José Carlos Schwarz, who with his band Cobiana Djazz helped to provide the soundtrack for the fight for freedom. "Na Kolonia" is one of his best-known songs, and it represents the cry of an artist in exile thinking about the fate of his friends back home. You can learn more about him and his sad and suspicious demise here, then go and check out his album "Lua Ki Di Nos".

One of the indigenous musical styles that both the Super Mamas and Mr Schwarz drew on was 'gumbe' - not to be confused with 'goombay' music of the Caribbean, although the two are thought to be related, and most definitely not to be confused with the Goombay Dance Band who bear no relation to any recognisable form of music. In the mid 1980s Tabanka Djaz picked up the gumbé baton and are still running with it today. I've chosen the title track of their 2021 EP "Brincadera D'Nós".

Our penultimate featured artist is Kimi Djabaté, a singer and musician now based in Lisbon who has been making music for about 20 years. In 2019 his profile was raised when him and that Madonna recorded a song together. Called "Ciao Bella", it is a lot better than you think it is going to be apart from the bits where she spouts drivel. But I prefer his solo work and in particular his most recent album, last year's "Dindin", from which today's selection comes.

We end, as all things must, with some Mandatory African Reggae. I have had to bend the rules a bit for this episode, but then they are my rules to bend. Only one of the two performers on this fine track is actually from Guinea-Bissau. That is Spirit Mosiah, who is joined by Ras Damula from Angola. Listen out for the unexpected Mr. Humphries impression eight seconds in.

"Nô Uni" - Associação Djorsom Garandi di Tina di Bolama

"Ordem Do Dia" - Super Mama Djombo

"Na Kolonia" - José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz

"Brincadera D'Nós" - Tabanka Djaz

"Alidonke" - Kimi Djabaté

"Kadiso Mudiso Ko" - Ras Damula Meets Spirit Mosiah

Friday 19 January 2024

Catch A Kaia

I got my first gig of the year under my belt on Wednesday when we went to Paper Dress Vintage in hip and happening Hackney (where else would it be with a name like that?) to see Kaia Kater.

Kaia is a singer, songwriter and banjo player from Montreal who released three very good albums back in the 2010s and has a long overdue fourth album coming out later this year. She has just kicked off a tour of the UK and Ireland on which she is accompanied by the double bass player you can see in the videos below. Here's the evidence...

This was the first time I have seen Kaia live and I was impressed. She has an engaging stage presence and the new songs sounded very good. If she is playing round your way I can recommend popping along.

Support was ably provided by Neev, who hails from Glasgow and whose Granny designed her album sleeve. Charity Chic is in all likelihood a family friend. Neev has a nice voice and some decent tunes, such as "Seawall" which features in the final video.

But before we get to that we have two audio clips and two videos from Kaia Kater. The audio is a track each from her first two albums, "Sorrow Bound" (2014) and "Nine Pin" (2016); the first video features a song that was one of the highlights of her 2018 album "Grenades" while the second is her brand new single.

"Paradise Fell" - Kaia Kater

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Happy Birthday Sweet 15

It is a big week for birthdays. On Monday we celebrated the birthdays of three reggae stalwarts, today we have one that is closer to home.

It was on this day back in 2009 that 27 Leggies emerged blinking into the light. 2109 posts and 5925 songs later it has grown into the slightly awkward adolescent it is today, still resentful at being saddled with such a stupid name. As it frequently complains, "why couldn't you just have called me Oliver, Jack or Alfie like everyone else in 2009?".

All the blog really wanted to do today was stay up in its room playing online games with its mates, but I have dragged it out to mutter its way through some thank yous.

First, to all the nice people in Promoland for the lovely presents you have sent us over the years. Between you, you have introduced us to a world of wonder. 

Second, to our occasional celebrity correspondents and collaborators such as Gwenno, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Hannah Lou Larsen (the former Asthmatic Harp), Mama Coconut, US National Public Radio and assorted Belgian DJs for creating the fleeting illusion of importance.

Third, to the bots from Singapore who have been such a constant source of support to me and many other bloggers over the last 12 months or so. Couldn't have done it without you, guys!

Last, and most important. to our regular and irregular readers from 138 countries for popping round and for your many kind comments over the years. And the occasional unkind one. My favourite is still "I could say you look like an old onion with a beard. But I don't need to put anybody down to feel good". There's a lesson for us all there.

"Fifteen" - Dig Deeper

"Fifteen Minutes Of Fame" - Suzi Quatro

"15 Highway Lines" - Courtney Marie Andrews

"15 Rounds For Jesus" - Sister Wynona Carr

"15 Years In A 10 Year Town" - Ward Davis

Monday 15 January 2024

Mandatory Reggae Birthdays

Today is a big day for birthdays in the reggae world, so please join me in wishing many happy returns to King Yellowman and Sister Carol (both 65 today) and the baby of the bunch, Tony Rebel (62).  

Echoing the words of Yellowman, I dedicate this post to all my fans in Jamaica and in England, and especially in the United States, Germany and France. And the rest of you of course.

"Who Can Make The Dance Ram" - Yellowman

"Spidla Ding" - Sister Carol

"Dream Girl" - Tony Rebel

P.S. After I had put together this post I received an email from the folks at VP Records informing me that Sister Carol and her daughter Nakeeba Amaniyea are the brains behind a brand new album called "Millenium Movie Star Riddim" which came out last Friday. The pair also perform the lead single "Be Alone". 

You can find the video for "Be Alone" here and the album - which also features the likes of Sister Nancy and Michael Palmer - is available here.

Friday 12 January 2024

Neglected Sailors

Last night I sat down to prepare this post only to find that my mind was completely blank. So I decided to take a look at at my listening stats on in the hope of finding some inspiration. 

I'm not sure I did, but I did find something. And that was that of the 100 artists that I have apparently listened to the most since started collecting the data, there are only two that have never featured on the blog.  

I'm putting that right today. Not just that, we've got a little mini-theme out of it too. 

"Sailin' Shoes" - Little Feat

"Sail On, Sailor" - The Beach Boys

Here are some more sailors who have never been seen in these waters before...

And one who I'm pretty sure must have been.   

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 24 - Guinea

This week we are trundling west from Ghana to Guinea. According to Google Maps it is a 36 hour drive from Accra to Conakry - head along the coast to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, then north until you get to Korhogo at which point you turn left and follow the N7 over the border into Guinea after which take the N17 the rest of the way.

Guinea borders six countries but in musical terms its closest neighbour is Mali to the north-east, perhaps because in both countries the Mandinka are the largest ethnic group and there is some shared cultural heritage, including in the role of griots who as well as being musicians are seen as oral historians and mediators.

One such griot was the man who is probably Guinea's only global star to date, the late Mory Kanté. He was born in Guinea and returned there later in life but his career began in Mali when he replaced Salif Keita as the lead singer of the famed Rail Band in 1973 before later going solo.

Mr. Kanté's biggest international hit was "Yé Ké Yé Ké" which topped the charts in various parts of Europe in 1988 and just crept into the Top 30 in the UK. However, this wasn't the original version of the song. That can be found on his 1984 album "A Paris", and it is that version I have gone with.

1984 also brought the death of Ahmed Sékou Touré, President of Guinea from independence in 1958 until his death and a man who had a major impact on the development of music in Guinea. Sékou Touré introduced 'authenticité', a cultural program that required musicians, writers, and artists to “look at the past” when creating their new works.

He took quite a hands on approach to the task by all accounts. As well as providing funding to set up a state record label (Syliphone) he was instrumental - no pun intended - in hiring musicians to form the Syli Orchestre National. As well as playing and recording in its own right, the Orchestre toured Guinea training local musicians and helping to set up other orchestras in each region.

One such orchestra was Kaloum Star, founded in 1969 in the Kaloum district of Conakry and led by Mamadou Barry. They released a few singles on Syliphone in 1974, of which today's selection was one, but no albums until the 1990s. Mr. Barry subsequently released a couple of solo albums this century, the most recent in 2016, but sadly left us in 2022.

One apparent beneficiary of Sékou Touré's hands on approach was our next artist, Sékouba Bambino. Various online sources claim that when the President heard him singing in a band in his (Sékouba's) home town a presidential decree was issued insisting that he be recruited to Bembeya Jazz, one of the best-known orchestras of the time. I don't think he was yet a member at the time of their video below.

After leaving Bembeya Jazz in the late 1980s Mr Bambino released many albums over the next 20 years or so, as a solo artist and with Africando. Today's choice comes from his 2006 album "C.A.N. History (1957-2006)" which judging by the title and album cover is a concept album about the African Cup of Nations. Why, I have no idea, but perhaps they will play some of it when this year's competition kicks off on Saturday. Guinea is in Group C, but its a tough draw. 

When Bambino and a couple of other Guinean griots toured Europe in 1999 one of the backing singers was a young lady called Tiranké Sidimé. Inspired by the experience she went home to record her debut album, "Kèkörö", which was released the following year. "Assoumaya" comes from that album. La Tira Tira, as she is known to her fans, went on to have a glittering career and is still going strong.

Having impressed you with my deep knowledge of Guinean music the facade now starts to fall apart. I know absolutely nothing about our next act, Baba Djan. "Kan Kan" is the title track of an album he released in 1992, but I discovered it on a compilation called "Guinea Vibrations" that I picked up in a record shop in Paris years ago. It is a fine tune and that is good enough reason for including it as far as I am concerned.

Which brings us to the Mandatory African Reggae slot. Stepping up this week is Takana Zion. His latest album, last year's "Banjo Kafaan", sees him embracing salsa and Afrobeat. In accordance with the Bloggers' Protocol I prefer his earlier work like "Rasta Government" (2011) which includes this track, the title of which sounds like something Desperate Dan might say when Aunt Aggie brings him his cow pie.

"Yé Ké Yé Ké" - Mory Kanté

"Gbassikolo" - Kaloum Star

"Allez Africa" - Sékouba Bambino

"Assoumaya" - Tiranké Sidimé

"Kan Kan" - Baba Djan

"M'Bife" - Takana Zion

Monday 8 January 2024

Increasing The Voltage

As will as being a man of taste and distinction, Khayem over at Dubhed has a customer service ethos second to none.

On Saturday he posted one of his customarily excellent mixes, this one featuring songs and artists with 1000 in their name. I said something in the comments about him having missed out the John Holt album '1000 Volts of Holt'. Rather than ignoring me, as he would have been quite entitled to do, within just a matter of hours he shared a different mix including not one but two John Holt tunes! 

I felt I should make an effort to aspire to his levels of service, so I am posting two more magic moments from the late, great Mr Holt. Perhaps other bloggers reading this might do so as well and we could make it a 'thing' of some sort.

Both of my selections are from the rootsier end of Mr Holt's repertoire. First we have "Up Park Camp" from 1977, and then a 12" mix of his 1983 standard "Police In Helicopter". This version was reissued by VP Records last year to mark the fortieth anniversary of the original. You can find it on Bandcamp along with two other versions and the story of the song.

"Up Park Camp" - John Holt

"Police In Helicopter (Extended Sirens Mix)" - John Holt

Other voltages are available.

Friday 5 January 2024

Apocalypse Wow!

Who can resist an album called "Acid Punk Dub Apocalypse", especially when it brought to you by Youth and Jah Wobble with guest spots from the likes of Hollie Cook, Vivien Goldman and that bloke from The Orb among others? Not me, that's for sure.

The album came out back in 2020 and the hip young bloggers like Swiss Adam and Khayem were probably all over it at the time. I on the other hand only became aware of its existence earlier this week, but I've been making up for lost time since.

"Inspector Out Of Space (feat. Rhiannon)" - Youth Meets Jah Wobble

"Rhino (feat. Vivien Goldman)" - Youth Meets Jah Wobble

 More apocalyptic sounds below.

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 23 - Ghana

After a break from our travels for the festive period we are back on the road, and what a first stop of the year we have! We're in Ghana, one of Africa's musical powerhouses in my opinion. Wading through my large collection of Ghanaian music to narrow it down was always a pleasure and never a chore, but involved a lot of time and some tough decisions. 

For example, I have excluded from the audio clips those artists who have featured on the blog over the last couple of years. Which means that current stars like King Ayisoba and Alogte Oho have been 'relegated' to the videos while the highlife greats Sweet Talks miss out completely (although I have reactivated the links in the previous post in which they featured).

So if they haven't made it through the rigorous selection process, who has? Well, Fred Tetteh & His Continentals for a start. Quite correctly, because for me they really were where it all began. 

Back in 1979 when I was 16 I moved back to the UK after seven years in South Africa. I selected "Lie Lie Fight" at random from a small selection of 7" singles in a shop at Nairobi airport during a refuelling stop on the flight from Johannesburg to London. It was the first African record from anywhere apart from South Africa that I ever bought, and has a special place in my heart for that reason.

"Lie Lie Fight" was released in 1970 on the famed Essiebons label, which was established in 1969 and during the 1970s became a major force in Ghanaian music. It played a particularly important role in developing highlife music, with many of the leading names appearing on its roster at various points. 

In 1973 and 1974 Essiebons released a series of stonking singles by the short-lived Apagya Show Band. The Show Band's importance outweighs its output as it brought together three men who would go on to become some of the biggest stars of the scene - Ebo Taylor, Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Bob Pinodo. 

All three are still with us and Messrs Taylor and Ambolley are still pretty active at the ages of 87 and 76 respectively. Ebo Taylor's most recent album "Yen Ara" came out in 2018; today's track comes from its 2012 predecessor, "Appia Kwa Bridge". Gyedu-Bley Ambolley's most recent album "Gyedu​-​Blay Ambolley and Hi​-​Life Jazz" came out just over a year ago; today's track was first released back in 1988 on an album called "Sinigwe Soca".

The 1970s were a golden age of Ghanaian music, with significant live scenes and recording facilities. One of the finest albums of the era was "This Is Marijata", the 1976 debut album by Marijata. As the blurb on the Bandcamp page says "it is pure, rootsy, raw, driving African funk music of the highest order".

The golden age came to an abrupt end in 1981 when a military coup was followed by a two year long dawn to dusk curfew in Accra and Kumasi. During that time many musicians emigrated, with quite a few of them heading to Germany. There they mixed Ghanaian highlife with German electronic and disco sounds to create a style that became known as 'Burger highlife'. Perhaps the pre-eminent exponent was Nana Tuffour. "Sikyi Medley" was originally released in 1987, and you can find it on a 'best of' EP of the same name put out by the Kalita label in 2018.   

The 1990s saw the emergence of 'hiplife', which as the name suggests incorporated elements of hip-hop into highlife. Reggie Rockstone (or Reginald Osei to his dear old Mum) is rightly or wrongly acclaimed as 'the Godfather of Hiplife'. Today's selection comes from his 2004 album "The Last Show" and features the vocals of one KK Fosu. Me neither.

We end, as all things must, with some Mandatory African Reggae. With a cool name like Y-Bayani & Baby Naa And The Band of Enlightenment, Reason & Love this lot were always going be included, and the fact that their album "Nsie Nsie" (2020) is a bloody good record is simply a bonus.

"Lie Lie Fight" - Fred Tetteh & The Contintentals

"Mumunde" - The Apagya Show Band

"Ayesama" - Ebo Taylor

"Atwer" - Gyedu-Blay Ambolley

"Break Through" - Marijata

"Sikyi Medley" - Nana Tuffour

"Ah! Fa Me Bone Ky3 Me Wai" - Reggie Rockstone featuring KK Fosu

"Asembi Ara Amba" - Y-Bayani & Baby Naa And The Band of Enlightenment, Reason & Love

Monday 1 January 2024

Howdy Folks

Hope you all enjoyed seeing in the new year in your preferred manner. Our local had a 1980s theme night. For my costume I strapped three inflatable plastic seagulls to my head (readers of a more mature age will get the reference). I did well in the popular vote but didn't find favour with the judges. 

Before last year disappears in the rear view mirror I wanted to give a quick plug to one of my favourite reissues of the year - a compilation called "I Can Almost See Houston" which brought together the complete recordings of one Howdy Glenn.

Mr Glenn was an African-American country singer who had a couple of minor hits in the late 1970s and was then promptly forgotten about until the person who compiled the album chanced upon an 8x10 promo photo of him in a box of country music memorabilia in Bakersfield. He was a new name to me, and I suspect to most others.

Listening to the album it is hard to understand why he was not more successful. He had a fine voice and some good songs, and the production style was very much in line with the mainstream country sound of the period. It is possible that his colour may have been a barrier to some extent - with the notable exception of Charley Pride no other African-American country singers had any sustained success at the time.

Howdy's biggest hit was a cover of an old Willie Nelson song, "Touch Me", which made it to No. 62 in the country charts in 1977. Here it is with one of several 'tears in my beer' numbers you can find on the album.

"Touch Me" - Howdy Glenn

"I'm Here To Drink It All" - Howdy Glenn

Alongside his recording and performing career Mr Glenn was for many years a firefighter in California, and was sometimes promoted as The Singing Fireman. Which reminds me of another moderately successful singer who was also a dedicated public servant...